SATURDAY, April 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Even though back pain affects nearly 10 million Americans a year, there's a lot you can do to avoid the problem, an expert says.
It begins with healthy habits, including not smoking along with maintaining proper weight through good nutrition and exercise. Good posture, balance, strength and flexibility help increase core strength to support the back.
"All these elements can preserve a good back, keep our bones and bodies strong and help the body heal should injury occur," Kathy Dieringer, a National Athletic Trainers' Association board member, said in a news release from the organization.
To maintain good posture, keep your shoulders back when sitting, avoid slouching and don't sit for more than 30 minutes without moving around.
It's also important to support your back when sitting or sleeping. Sit with your knees slightly bent and higher than your hips. When in bed, try to maintain your lumbar curves and use pillows if necessary, Dieringer said.
Core muscles make up the "powerhouse" in the center of your body, according to the Federal Occupational Health website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Core muscles include abdominal muscles, back muscles and muscles in the pelvic region.
Dieringer advised strengthening your core using exercises such as crunches, modified crunches with weights or medicine balls, planks, bridges and back extensions. When exercising, be sure to work on both lower and upper back muscles. It's also important to do exercises that help maintain back flexibility.
If you're inactive, get moving. Walking is a great way to maintain good back health, according to Dieringer.
Remember to lift with your legs, bend at the knees and keep your back straight. Don't twist when carrying objects. Turn your entire body and keep your hips and shoulders facing the same direction. If you're doing work -- such as gardening -- that requires lots of bending or stooping, take frequent breaks and stretch your back when you stand up.
If you do experience back pain, stop your activity, rest and consult your doctor. Ignoring back pain can lead to complications, Dieringer warned.
"By following a healthy regimen to maintain good posture, proper back and body mechanics, your movements should be easy, pain-free and with great range of motion," she said.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about back pain.